How To Stop Judging Yourself — a Lesson From Harry Potter

Become Harry Potter, find the Horcruxes, and destroy the shame around them.
Harry Potter
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What is self-judgment?

Anyone who has any experience in recovery from addiction knows what relapse is. Relapse is falling back into your compulsive behavior — whether it’s alcohol, overeating, fear, resentment, people-pleasing, or anxiety. Recovery is not a straight road. It’s going in circles. 

As an ACA (stands for Adult Children of Alcoholics), I find myself relapsing all the time. The difference is that after 3 years into the program I don’t judge myself harshly for it. But no — it’s not the result of a conscious choice.

My will is not that strong. I am quite powerless before my habit to judge myself without mercy. I cannot rationally convince myself not to judge myself. Willpower is not the solution.

Self-judgment is compulsive behavior. It’s an addiction in itself. When I judge myself, I get certain hormones that make me feel alive. Harsh self-criticism is a form of self-rejection.

What causes self-judgment?

Crack in the asphalt
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Self-judgment comes from our unconscious desire to re-experience the same degree of rejection that we experienced growing up. There is a certain pleasure in self-castigation. Paradoxically, ACAs keep recreating in their adult lives the same trauma they experienced in their dysfunctional homes.

If you were rejected emotionally in your childhood, you will keep rejecting yourself as an adult. When I condemn myself, I symbolically reject those parts of me that I don’t want to see. What pleasure do I get out of it?

By judging myself, I, like Voldemort, split my soul into several pieces and hide the parts that make me vulnerable. I create Horcruxes and hide them so no one will see my vulnerability, including me. This allows me to feel better. It creates the illusion of invincibility.

Just like my family used to reject me emotionally by mercilessly judging “certain parts of me,” so I repeat the same behavior by rejecting those same parts of me that I don’t want to see. The more a child is judged and rejected when growing up, the more Horcruxes his or her soul will be split into.

Incidentally, Voldemort split his souls into 7 pieces— which correspond to the 7 circles of Dante's Hell and 7 circles of Dante's Purgatory.

What is a Horcrux?

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How can I stop judging myself? If you follow my metaphor, I need to become Harry Potter — find the Horcruxes and destroy the shame around them.

Horcruxes are the parts of a human soul that were rejected and hidden to avoid vulnerability. To destroy Horcruxes means to accept in love what was rejected in shame.

Harry’s quest was hard — to accept Voldemort IN HIMSELF. Harry was the last Horcrux. Voldemort was that part of him which Harry didn’t want to see, acknowledge, or embrace. But unlike Voldemort, who, following his mother’s example, rejected the vulnerable parts of himself, Harry intentionally embraced that which he hated in himself. The moment he did it, the last Horcrux was destroyed.

The compulsion to self-criticism is very hard to break because, like all other compulsions, it’s non-rational. No amount of reasoning can convince me not to judge myself. It’s a spell. Spells cannot be reasoned away. They can only be broken — by love.

What is the ACA solution? 

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The ACA solution states that we need to become our own loving parents. A loving parent accepts all of the children — without splitting their soul apart through harsh criticism. One thing I found in the “circles” of the ACA recovery is that my progress in the program largely depends on what I do when I relapse.

Just yesterday, I found myself reaching out for my phone mindlessly again and again — despite my better judgment. It was clearly my phone addiction at work. At first, I felt the urge to shame myself. But then, something shifted and instead of scolding myself, I said: “Hello, my compulsion. I will not resist you. I see you.”

The moment I stopped resisting the fact that I relapsed, something lifted in my soul, as if it embraced a certain part of itself that had been rejected. Next, I texted a friend about it and gave the whole thing over to God. I felt so much better. Then and there, there was no urge to check my phone.

I knew it would come back. But it’s ok. I will not reject it. I will embrace it by saying: “Welcome, my compulsion. I see you.” And then I will talk about it with a friend who doesn’t judge me and let it go into God’s hands — until the next time.

What is Purgatory according to Dante? 

Painting of a mountain
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The “circles of ACA recovery,” or any recovery at all, are strikingly similar to Dante’s Purgatory.

In Divine Comedy, Purgatory is imagined as a mountain with seven circles, or terraces. The souls circle around the mountain, again and again, always returning to the same place where they started their ascent, only each time a little higher. 

Recovery is about going in circles — you always come back to where you started. It’s a constant cycle of rising, walking, and falling. An addict without recovery will be circling down into the bottomless pit of Hell, whereas the addict in recovery will be cycling their way up into Paradise.

The difference is subtle but vital — am I rejecting some part of me through self-judgment or am I welcoming ALL OF ME? Am I doing what all loving parents do — make the child feel that “it” is ok? By non-resistance to what is the Horcrux is destroyed. The soul is patched together.

Every time I refuse to reject myself at the moment, I ascend a step higher in recovery. I cannot stop judging myself through willpower. The more I use my willpower to resist some part of me, the more I perpetuate the split in my soul which gave rise to self-judgment in the first place. I can only use my will to stop resisting right here right now.

What part of the brain is activated during prayer and meditation?

Two teddy-bears under rain
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Cynthia Bourgeault, a leading specialist in centering prayer, talks about the science behind this simple practice — which is sometimes called the “welcoming prayer.” The process of welcoming prayer consists of three parts: 

1. Observing what’s going on in your emotions and bodily sensations.

Bring your attention to any sensations in your body. Don't try to change anything. Do not repress what is arising. It will help you to become physically present with the experience.

2. Identifying the feelings by name.

Call the feeling what it is —  fear, anger, weakness, upset, etc. Though you may feel like pushing away the experience, start to gently welcome it by name: "Welcome, fatigue." By welcoming the emotion you disarm it. It can't harm you.

3. Welcoming them and letting them go (to God and another human being).

All emotions are fluid. They constantly change. By not resisting them and welcoming them by name, you allow the emotion to slowly recede and transform into something else. Say, "I am letting you go, headache." "I am letting go of my desire to change the situation."

There is a stunning correlation between this ancient practice of the Christian East and the activation of the so-called parasympathetic nervous system. It is confirmed by numerous studies. 

When functional MRI is hooked to the brain of the person engaged in prayer and meditation, it shows that as soon as they stop resisting and start welcoming, their sympathetic nervous system shuts down and the parasympathetic turns on. That means that the person immediately goes from “fight and flight” into “rest and digest.” 

Recovery is the Purgatory of the soul where I gradually embrace more and more of myself and become whole. The addiction to self-judgment is broken when I embrace that which I don’t want to see in me and say: “Welcome, the hidden and rejected part of me. I am letting you be.”

These words are the love incantation that gradually blows up all of my Horcruxes because no dark spell can survive love.

I am a translator and blogger who believes that all change comes from inside out, not from outside in.

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